DJ 101: Laptop DJ Setup – Testing and Going Live


After you’ve ripped your content, you should spend some time testing and practicing. Time is always an issue, so first make sure to time yourself putting together and tearing down the system. Run it live at home and practice using it live. Make some mix CDs to hear how it sounds. Are there glitches and skips? Refer back to message boards for optimal settings (especially for latency).

Like the first time you used CDs, it will take time to get used to and feel comfortable spinning in this new way. Laptop DJing offers many additional options and features, so take the time to dive deep into it. Get to know your controller intimately — it’s your connection to the crowd because it will allow you to perform all the tricks and techniques that make you unique.

If you are spinning music videos, you need to master mixing not only the music but also the video. Alternating between different transitions/wipes will keep your performance fresh; don’t use the same one each time. Another consideration is whether or not the software automatically triggers visuals for songs that don’t have videos. Will you handle that by switching to a separate visual source?

While you are testing, set up a playlist to run for several hours; if you are going to spin a six-hour set, then have the system run to ensure its stability. See what happens if a piece of gear gets unplugged. Test if or for how long the system can run without power. Get to know your entire system like a single piece of gear; there will always be some unique things that happen that you’ll have to figure out on the fly. Also, other DJs, club staff and interested spectators will ask all kinds of questions about your setup.

Going live

When it’s time to finally gig, arrive early for a complete soundcheck. The first time you set up, you’ll run into some hitches, so allow a lot of time to work through them. Carry a list of all the gear in the bag to ensure that what comes out also goes back in.

For backup, cue up an emergency CD or iPod to go at a second’s notice. Scotty B from Promo Only uses an iPod with a preprogrammed set in case of emergencies. The fear of dead air scares many DJs from going laptop, and after six years of laptop DJing I still carry a backup CD. There have been three times when the power cables came out or the power went down.

The most cutting-edge technology will not make you a great performer, but the power of computer DJing gives you more tools to put on a great show. If you just stand there pressing the Sync key between loading tracks, that’s not really a show. Practice your skills, read the audience, program the best content and have fun. Remember, as the entertainer, it’s your responsibility to bring the party.